Omni-channel, customer experience, big data, little data, Nexus of Forces – all of these words and phrases will continue to generate buzz as we head into 2014, but there’s one that will dominate the customer service landscape (or so we hope) in the new year, and that’s customer engagement center.

As customer satisfaction scores continue their descent (from 82.1% in 2011 to 77.6% in 2013/14) alongside first contact resolution rates (from 85.2% in 2009 to 73.1% in 2013/14), there is a change in organization, business processes and vocabulary that will need to take place from “contact center” to “customer engagement center.”

The move to put engagement ahead of service efficiency is a change that almost every department is beginning to get behind. A recent executive survey found that customer engagement is the top concern keeping CMOs up at night, and under that customer engagement umbrella falls creating sustainable and engaging customer relationships and providing an effective customer experience.

More Than Words

What will it take for contact centers to become customer engagement centers? It’s much more than just semantics. While contact centers have evolved to serve customers via phone, email, support ticket and perhaps a few other channels, customer engagement centers will centralize all channels and their analytics to go beyond customer service to a customer experience.

According to Gartner’s definition, a customer engagement center (CEC) refers to “a logical set of technologies and business applications that are engineered to provide customer service and support, regardless of the interaction (or engagement) channel. The goal of the CEC is not only to provide service to customers as they move among communications channels — including social media and community forums — while retaining the customers’ context, but also to deliver the appropriate business rule to determine the next best action, information or process with which to engage the customers.”

Notes Gartner VP and Distinguished Analyst Michael Maoz, “by 2015, organizations that have not embraced the concept of the customer engagement center will lose customers to competitors that have.”

According to the 2013/2014 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, there’s a lot of work to be done to transform the average contact center. The survey of more than 800 participants across 11 industries shows that only 32% of those surveyed have a social customer service offering, 29% an SMS capability, 28% chat support and 20%, a smartphone offering.

But there are brands that are leading the charge in the change. Earlier this month, GM announced the official opening of a Customer Engagement Center on its GM Technical Center campus, where business consolidations will bring 300 advisors and 35 GM managers to the state-of-the-art facility by the end of the year.

“We recognize that our front line of customer advisors is directly connected to our bottom line,” said Alicia Boler-Davis, senior vice president Global Customer Experience and Product Quality. “Instead of focusing on closing cases as quickly as possible, we’re focused on listening to our customers and satisfying them as quickly as possible.”

The Start of Something Big

With analysts promoting the transformation from “contact center” to “customer engagement center” (read Michael Maoz’ The Beginnings of the CRM Customer Engagement Center or Elizabeth Herrell’s Are Contact Centers Becoming Obsolete?), will big brands embrace it? With customer satisfaction and first contact resolution displacing agent call handling capacity as the top indicator of 2013/14 contact center operational performance, hopefully it will generate some buzz.